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I have two memories of the first time I saw a suspected copperhead snake in our backyard this summer.
I am not proud of either.
One. I locked the porch door behind me after racing inside, perhaps thinking the slithering culprit possessed the uncanny ability to turn a doorknob.
Second. As I ran down the hallway in search of my husband, I actually glanced behind me to see if the snake was (yes, I will admit it) chasing me.
Of course, it wasn't.
Obviously, I am afraid of snakes and quite lacking when it comes to thinking clearly while scared out of my mind.
Throw in the fact that we have two young children and the possibility of a pit viper being just feet from their swing-set turns that common fear into full-fledged terror.
The snake was the first of four that visited our backyard in one week.
Each arrived at dusk when we were watering plants. My 2-year-old witnessed one sighting and later reassured me "It was a worm, Mommy."
Now a fortress of moth balls and a product called Snake Away - both rumored to repel snakes - surrounds our yard.
In case those precautions turn out to be as effective as posting "No Snakes Allowed" signs, my husband has also cleared away every possible snake hiding spot.
If that doesn't work, we may have to take less mainstream approaches.
As a friend asked: "Wonder if you need a permit to own a mongoose?"
'Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?'
Snakes are just part of the Deep South package, experts say.
They're as much a part of living in Coastal Georgia as magnolias and moss-laden oaks.
I, however, can't help but echo the Indiana Jones quote from "Raiders of the Lost Ark": "Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?"
Despite all the facts to the contrary, my uneducated hunch is snakes enjoy "putting the squeeze" on us. I suspect they get big laughs out of making us toss watering cans into the air, jump up and down, scream and scamper back into the house.
Perhaps it's their revenge for the way we continue to typecast snakes as villains, starting with the whole evil serpent thing in the Garden of Eden. Or maybe they're still ticked at being driven out of Ireland by St. Patrick.
But, surprisingly, snake experts disagree and take a much more educated approach.
They contend most snakes are just as afraid of us as we are of them. So rather than vilify them, we need to respect them and leave them alone.
"Snakes don't want to hunt you," said John Christensen, operator of Critter Control in Savannah. "They want to be away from you as much as you want to be away from them."
Christensen is a brave guy whose work puts him face to face with lots of snakes. He's removed them from all types of places, even from inside houses.
Snakes don't attack you, but only bite when provoked, such as when people step on snakes, tease them or try to pick them up.
"If you see a snake, walk away from it," Christensen advises.
Too often, Christensen said, people kill snakes after misidentifying the animal as a venomous snake. But the snake turns out to be one of the non-venomous "good" snakes, such as a corn or king snake.
Venomous snakes look different from their less dangerous cousins.
And it's not just their guilty expressions. Venomous snakes usually have triangular heads and elliptical or cat's-eye pupils.
Trouble is you don't want to get close enough to check out their eyes.
Fears supersede facts
Patti Fallin was bitten by a copperhead two years ago outside her Savannah home. She was rushing into her car one May evening when she felt excruciating pain in her right foot.
She had accidentally stepped on the snake in her carport and it sunk in its fangs in response.
Her husband killed the snake and took it with them to the emergency room so medical staff knew for certain they were dealing with a copperhead bite.
Patti spent the next four days in the hospital, her leg swollen all the way up to her hip. Recovery took six weeks at home in bed.
The Fallins continue to find copperheads in their yard, and Patti occasionally feels the effects of nerve damage from the bite.
All of which make it tough to find comfort in the snakes-are-more-afraid-of-us adage.
No matter how hard we try, fears tend to outweigh facts.
"I know they don't want to attack you," Patti said. "But that doesn't make me feel any better."
Credits: By Anne Hart - Savannah Morning News